Looking toward the new year of 2017, I resolve to resist. Again. Still. Forever.
Resist hate. Resist racism, xenophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism.
Resist greed. Resist privatizing Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security and prisons and probation and schools and social services. Resist taking away the very limited gains won under Obamacare. Resist defunding Planned Parenthood. Resist pipelines and fracking and environmental destruction in the service of private profit.
Resist repression. Resist limits on free speech and academic freedom and freedom of ALL religions. Resist defunding of public defenders and restriction of the right to an attorney. Resist registering people by religion or nationality. Resist mass deportations and denial of asylum.
Figuring out what to resist is easy. Figuring out how to resist is tougher. Maybe if I were 16 or 26 again, I could do it all: write letters, sign petitions, door-knock for voter registration and get out the vote, march in the streets, choke on tear-gas, risk arrest, stay up all night writing briefs for federal court challenges to suppression of civil rights, and show up in court the next morning.
I’m not young any more. I don’t have the same energy. And I’ve been broken more than a few times. I get up and keep going, but I can’t go as far or as fast as I once could. (Or thought I could.)
If my capacity is limited, I’m not alone. Resistance is a lot to ask of busy parents and unemployed workers and struggling students and everybody else trying to make it day to day. But even if I, if we, can’t do it all, we still can do something. Guante writes: “Just because you don’t have the power to run out the front door and magically fix everything, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have power.” Just because you don’t have the time, energy or resources to do it all, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have some time, some energy, some resources to commit to resisting, to commit to making a difference.
When I think about resistance, I think about standing up, speaking out, and showing up. That’s three parts of resistance, and each of those parts has lots of different elements. I can’t do all of them. I can choose some parts to do each week. So can you.
Stand up for what you believe in. Stand up for racial justice. Stand up for economic justice and a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days. Stand up for education, for refugees, for clean energy, for health care — figure out what your most important issues are and stand up.
Standing up starts with educating yourself. I’m a firm believer in facts. Our resistance must be based on a strong foundation of facts.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw an old grade school classmate. She told me that she always reads what I post, because she knows she can trust what I pass along. I was surprised – she was not someone I would have expected to read or agree with me. I feel humbled by her trust. Her words assured me that the effort I put into being a reliable source does make a difference.
You can find good information and pass it along. You can challenge and debunk lies.Maybe not on every issue, but at least on the ones you choose as most important for you. You can stand up for what you believe, and become a reliable source for your friends.
Once you have facts, you can respond to lies spread on social media. You can spread the word about your most important issues. You can advocate for and against legislation in city councils and the state legislature and Congress.
Indivisible: A practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda was put together by “former progressive congressional staffers who saw the Tea Party beat back President Obama’s agenda.” Parts of “Indivisible” are very good – like this guide to what your Member of Congress (MoC) cares about and doesn’t care about:
“Indivisible” focuses only on Congress, though its lessons can also be applied to other levels of government. You can find your Minnesota legislators’ names and addresses here, find your U.S. Congressional representative here, and find a whole list of federal, state and local officials, with addresses and phone numbers here, just by entering your zip code.
I believe we need to focus on organizing people – neighbors, co-workers, voters — not just on pressuring public officials. So read and use “Indivisible,” but be ready to go beyond its Congress-first focus.
On a more personal and interpersonal level, Guante recently published For People Who Want to “Do” Something But Don’t Know What To Do. Guante’s relatively short text urges us to learn about issues as well as “taking the time to breathe” and take care of yourself. He talks about using social media, signal boosting, and communicating, as well as physical actions. Click on the link, read the whole message, download the zine and share it with friends.
Do you regularly do “signal boosting?” Signal boosting is what I’ve just done with Guante’s words – repeat, amplify, recommend, send people to the source. If you post a link on Facebook, that’s a mild kind of signal boosting. If you post a link AND write a couple of sentences about why this link is important and why you really want your friends to click on the link and read this – that’s better signal boosting. Sharing this blog post is signal boosting, and I appreciate it.
What do you do when you see someone being harassed, verbally or physically? What do you do when a teenager on the bus starts pulling on a Muslim woman’s hijab? Or when a woman in a store tells a Spanish-speaking couple to go back where they came from? What do you do when your nephew tells a racist joke at the Thanksgiving dinner table? What do you do when a co-worker says that Muslims are terrorists or that black people are lazy or that a rape victim was asking for it? What do you do when a friend posts a racist or sexist image on Facebook?
You speak up.
Even if your voice shakes.
Even if you are scared.
Even if you think no one will listen.
You still speak up.
People disagree on the most effective way to speak up or intervene in situations of public harassment. One good approach comes from a Facebook account called The Middle Eastern Feminist:
She adds two specific rules:
1) Do not, in any way, interact with the attacker. You must absolutely ignore them and focus entirely on the person being attacked!
2) Please make sure to always respect the wishes of the person you’re helping: whether they want you to leave quickly afterwards, or not! If you’re in a hurry escort them to a place where someone else can take over – call one of their friends, or one of yours, of if they want to, the police. It all depends on how they feel!.
Somewhat different approaches are described here and here. Read it all. Then practice.
Finding your voice takes practice, like building biceps by lifting weights, day after day. Practice saying what you believe, so that when the times come, you will be ready to speak up for justice.
Show up for a community meeting or forum. You don’t have to be an expert, just one more body in the room, one more body witnessing to the importance of the issue at hand. Community forums in St. Paul changed the minds of city council members and changed the civilian review process for police. If you feel like you don’t know enough about an issue, showing up at a community forum is a great way to learn by hearing personal stories of people whose lives and families are affected.
Show up to learn what you are defending and what you are resisting. Go to teach-ins and spoken word events and readings and lectures. or forums or lectures. (Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis is hosting a series of conversations on the constitution, beginning in January. East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul hosts a variety of community education events.) In his challenging essay on the state of today’s fractured movement, Ricardo Levins-Morales notes that:
“People’s movements historically have produced forms of mass self-education – study circles, freedom schools, consciousness raising groups, teach-ins, peoples assemblies and popular education practices – that develop the critical capacity of the members and undermine the influence of “expert” professionals. Such practices inevitably lead to questions about the root causes of oppression.”
If you’re a veteran of activism or organizing or advocacy, read the whole essay. I don’t agree with everything in it, but Ricardo’s analysis is illuminating and very helpful. And, as he writes,
“We must rediscover the joys of rigorous yet generous disagreement. To publicly challenge someone’s political positions today is a recipe for ending a friendship. When I was coming up in activism it was a good way to start one.”
Show up by joining organizations. We need to support one another. As Sarah van Gelder writes in Yes magazine, “To make it through, we need other people. Isolation is toxic, even during good times. So reach out to people who make you feel supported and to those who are most vulnerable.”
Join other people to organize protests and letter-writing campaigns, and sanctuaries and teach-ins. Join the NAACP, the ACLU, or the social justice committee at your religious congregation. Join Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in their new Resist, Revolt, Unite campaign. Host a house party, or go to one.
Show up by putting your money where your mouth is. Write a check or click and donate to one of the many organizations doing good work in the resistance.
Show up for a demonstration or protest rally. “While my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe,” Jayanthi Kyle sings, “Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets.” You may be just one body among 50 or a hundred or a thousand, but each body is important.
Never been to a demonstration? Find a friend, and go together. Worried about getting arrested? Unlikely – most of the time, no one is arrested. If civil disobedience is part of a demonstration, organizers usually take care to warn people that a specific action could mean risking arrest.
Want to start, but don’t know quite where? Start with the inauguration– you have two big choices in the Twin Cities.
- RESIST FROM DAY ONE! is a march and rallies on inauguration day (Friday, January 20), with many participating organizations. Go to their Facebook page for details.
- The Women’s March on Washington: Minnesota takes place Saturday, January21, in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington D.C. on the same day. It’s not limited to women — see their Facebook page for details.
- Want to start smaller? Monday at the Mansion is a peaceful, family-friendly vigil at the Governor’s mansion in memory of Philando Castile and the 20+ Minnesotans killed by police in 2016.
We live in a dangerous time, when a demagogue is hounding good people out of their jobs, calling them communists and traitors, making it impossible for them to work as teachers or actors or to serve in public office. No – wait: that was Joe McCarthy in the early 1950s.
We live in a disgraceful time, when our country is engaged in a war that costs the lives of tens of thousands of American soldiers, who are disproportionately young black men, and of hundreds of thousands of people of color in small countries half a world away. No – wait: that was Lyndon Johnson’s war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s.
We live in a deadly time, when standing up for racial justice can get an NAACP organizer shot down outside his own home, can get churches blown up or burned down, can get organizers jailed or beaten or shot to death. No – wait: that was the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
We lived through those times. We even got stronger fighting against McCarthyism, and the U.S. war in Vietnam, and legal segregation. We learned lessons that we need for this time we find ourselves in, this year, this four years.
We do live in a terrible time, with our own fascist heading to the White House. We live in a time that embodies the corrupt military-industrial complex that a former general and former Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned about. We live in a time when open expressions of racism and hate are multiplying across the country. We live in a time when saber rattling once again escalates to a nuclear level.
As terrible as our time may be, it is also a time of opportunity. George Takei, who grew up in a U.S. internment camp, writes in Welcome to the Resistance:
“In today’s political environment, we find ourselves again outsiders, forming a core of those opposed to the powers in Washington and in many of our state capitals. But this is not unfamiliar territory. It is, in fact, where movements were born. The greatest moments in civil rights, from Selma to Stonewall, Seneca Falls to Standing Rock, sprang forward not from eras of harmony, but out of bitter conflict.”
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II agrees, calling this the time of the Third Reconstruction:
“America must not waste time asking ourselves how this could have happened. It happened because it is a habit written deep in our public memory. If we are willing to see ourselves as we are and have been, we will also see our potential for prophetic resistance, even in times like these.”
Reverend Barber also reminds us — and I think this is very important to remember — that Trump did not win the popular vote. He lost, by well over a million votes. Most people who voted in this election rejected Trump and all he stood for. We are in the majority, not the minority. We do not have to convert a vast majority that opposes everything we stand for. We have to resist and ultimately out-organize the minority that has seized power.
“They did not un-elect the foundational principles of our Constitution,” Reverend Barber writes, “nor have they overwhelmed the moral convictions of our faith. Across lines of division, we can continue to build the moral coalition that is already a majority in this country.”
So — onward to 2017. Resolve to resist. Again. Still. Forever.